- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 30, 2003

The unlamented death of former Uganda President Idi Amin recently in Saudi Arabia says a great deal about the tragedy that has befallen postcolonial Africa. At the same time, his death points to recent signs of hope in Uganda under President Yoweri Museveni, developments that augur well for the two dozen countries that lie between the Sahara and the Zambezi River.

Amin’s terrorist regime (1971-1979) tortured or murdered 100,000 to 200,000 of its own people, expelled 40,000 productive Asians, and had a stormy alliance with Moammar Gadhafi’s Libya.

For years, many Westerners were more bemused by Amin’s antics than alarmed by his terrorism. The one-time boxing champion who declared himself king of Scotland once said God had told him to transform Uganda into a “black man’s country.”

His murderous racism did not seem to bother civil rights activists in Washington, who repeatedly picketed the South African embassy while sparing Amin’s.

Uganda under Amin was a symbol of the chaos and brutality that has ravaged tropical Africa since 1955. Tribal wars and coups in Nigeria, Congo, Burundi and Rawanda have killed as many as 5 million people and produced more than 6 million refugees.

Indigenous slavery, stamped out by the colonial powers, has returned in some places, notably Sudan.

Add to this the economic disasters resulting from corrupt and megalomaniac leaders, like Congo’s Sese Seko Mobutu who pocketed billions from U.S. and World Bank aid. Africa’s current problems are not caused by colonialism. They result from the failure of indigenous leaders to take care of their own people, to govern honestly and justly.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa put it straight. In March 1990, he said: “God’s children in Africa suffer because there is less freedom in their countries than during colonial times…. There is totalitarianism and despotism nearly everywhere.”

Now, back to Uganda. The decade of turbulence following Amin’s fall finally gave way to the relatively stable and responsible regime of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in 1986. The dynamic president brought back the skilled Asians deported by Amin, encouraged a market economy, welcomed foreign investment and instituted democratic elections. President Bush, on his recent visit to Africa, praised Mr. Museveni’s economic and political achievements.

But Mr. Museveni’s most notable and largely unreported accomplishment has been a drastic reduction in the incidents of AIDS infections in Uganda. The AIDS pandemic in Africa has killed 20 million and infected 30 million more. For years, African leaders have closed their eyes to primary cause of this plague.

And most foreign political and health officials, right in step, were loathe to acknowledge publicly that promiscuity was the chief cause of the spread of AIDS.

To staunch the epidemic, health workers in Africa have typically focused on condom distribution and other “safe sex” methods. But they lacked the courage to acknowledge that the chief cause for the spread of AIDS was promiscuity, a practice rife in all of tropical Africa. In several African AIDS conferences the word “promiscuity” was virtually forbidden.

But not in Uganda. Mr. Museveni having seen the effectiveness of a Christian medical mission group in controlling HIV infection, faced the problem squarely. In 1986, with the support of Christian leaders, he launched a vigorous program to stem promiscuity by promoting abstinence before marriage, faithfulness in marriage and only then condoms.

He was criticized as idealistic and naive, but his program worked. Uganda’s HIV infection rate plunged from 22 percent in 1992 to 7 percent in 2002, winning plaudits from the World Health Organization.

Of course, abstention will not cure those already infected with the virus. And at best, massive medical assistance will only delay their inevitable death. This raises questions about how best to spend the billions that Mr. Bush has requested for AIDS assistance abroad.

This tale of two drastically different leaders in one small country underscores the need to face honestly the realities in all of Africa — and the need for the United States to address Africa’s needs squarely and with compassion.

Surveying the tragic situation in Liberia and elsewhere, Secretary of State Colin Power said recently that the United States as the world’s only superpower should not allow Africa to “come apart.” It is hard to disagree with him.

Ernest W. Lefever is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Center.

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